FULL STE‘A’M AHEAD
centuries, it was believed that Science and Poetry are two diverse disciplines
that have nothing in common. Poetry is about feelings, Science is about facts
and they have very little to do with each other. Many say that the gulf between
the two is unbridgeable. The poet proclaims that the scientist is unimaginative
with his head buried in facts and data, incapable of seeing the bigger picture.
To the scientist, the poet seems to have his head in the clouds, indulging in
fantasy and imagination, far removed from reality. There is a divide no doubt
Science deals with the physical world and the things as they are. Poetry, on
the other hand, which also deals with the physical world, but with things as
they ought to be.
But as centuries rolled by, scholars realised the commonalty between the two. Both are fields of creativity that reveal secrets. Science and Poetry may be poles apart, yet they are strangely linked in spirit and practice. Both are quests for fundamental truths, only the approaches are different. The educationists now seem to want to shift focus from STEM to STEAM. The need is now felt that while imparting the knowledge of Science and Maths and kindling the spirit or tinkering and innovation, there is also the need to relook at the creative aspect of knowledge, thus bringing in the value addition of ‘A’ (Arts) to STEM.
Both the schemes of studies have not got along, but strangely they are more alike than one might think. It is a known fact that poetry has influenced the lives and works of pioneering scientists. The need of the hour is that if we want our children to develop critical and creative thinking skills, an interdisciplinary approach and mindset is earnestly required to appreciate the connections between these subjective and objective schools of thought. We need to link them again because both have so much to gain from each other. Many ‘Scientist-Poets’ have endeavoured to usher in a new intellectual movement and they believe that lively exchanges between the two will lead to nurturing a generation that has embraced the best of both the worlds.
Sir Humphrey Davy, the acclaimed Cornish chemist and inventor proclaimed at the age of 15 that he learned religion from nature and ethics was taught by revelation. The scientist to whom goes the credit of discovering the elements sodium, potassium, magnesium, calcium, boron fascinated crowds when he delivered his lectures in Chemistry at The Royal Institute in London. His audience was an eclectic mix of fellow scientists and poets. He used poetry and theatre to bring science to life. Probably, we can call him a pioneer in science communication because he broke the barrier between the two, leaving behind a unique legacy. He proved that one can be passionate in both science and the arts in equal manner. It was a strange coincidence indeed that he documented his investigatory experience on the euphoric effects of nitrous oxide, the laughing gas in 1800 in verse - “On Breathing the Nitrous Oxide”. Such was the effect of the gas on his mental and physical state that he felt only poetic lines could credit the scientific logic and reason alone.
The eighteenth century poet, Goethe was also a scientist, an accomplished botanist who made many unique discoveries in the field of comparative anatomy. Not known to many today, he discovered the inter-maxillary bone in the human jaw, a link that proved crucial to evolutionary theories that were to come. Giving credit to his discovery, it was named “Goethe’s Bone”.In 1810, he published ‘The Theory of Colours’,a seminal piece of work where he emphasised colour as arising from the dynamic interplay of light and darkness through the mediation of a turbid medium. This great German man of letters is credited with a literary repository of novels, lyrical poetry, dramas and memoirs apart from his incredible contribution to botany and anatomy.
Poet and Astronomer
Closer home, we all know the genius of the fifth century poet-astronomer, Aryabhatta, a clever man who at the age of 23 wrote his definitive mathematical work entirely in verse. Many believe that the time and culture in which he wrote was an oral one and complex facts were easier to remember in verse rather than prose. Yet, it is noteworthy that he was the only astronomer- mathematician to have expressed his observations in poetry. His genius is reflected in his calculation of Pi to the fourth digit and thereafter recorded in the form of a Sanskrit shloka. Fifty shlokas described the motions of the sun, moon, planets and other celestial bodies.
Thus, a greater understanding between science and poetry will foster a better understanding of the world and mankind.It will instill in the young generation the sensitivity towards people, their problems and finding solutions that will respect Nature and Mankind.